I am going to simplify the SEO process by giving you a rundown from beginning to end – that way, in the future, you will know when you are being given good or bad advice.
To be able to understand how SEO works and how to go about it you need two things.
• Common sense – never do what an SEO expert recommends without asking why they are doing it. Question their actions and come up with your own reasoning.
• Knowledge of what a search engine is and how it works.
Understanding what a search engine is and what it’s primary objective is…
In the beginning, the Internet was rather small – it contained maybe 1,000 or 2,000 websites.
There was no such thing as a search engine, and you would most likely find out about a website through word-of-mouth.
However, as the Internet grew, there was soon a demand for some kind of directory – kind of like a yellow pages for all the websites on the Internet. This would make it easier to find information you were interested in.
If you wanted to find plumbers, you’d go to the plumbers section and hopefully find some plumbers websites.
This was a good solution for a while, but a directory is only as good as the quality and quantity of the websites it has. As the Internet grew even bigger it was very difficult for the people running the directories to continually add and categorize each website.
What was really needed was an automated solution – some kind of robot that could do the job of human editors but a million times faster, it would have to find websites and sort thousands of them into categories everyday.
The search engine was born!
But let’s take a minute or two to think about that. A human can sort websites into categories pretty easily. A human just looks at a websites, reads a few paragraphs and knows instantly what the website is about.
But how about a machine? How can a computer, with no brain, work out what a website is about?
A computer may not be able to use intuition, but what it can do is count.
Let’s take this article you are reading now as an example. Using your intuition, under which category should it be slated:
• Home and Garden
Straight away, you said: “It’s SEO.”
Let’s look at how counting can bring the same conclusion. If you count how many times the word “SEO” appears on this page, you’ll find there are 14 occurrences, quite a lot in relation to all the other words that appear.
So just by counting, a computer can come up with a conclusion similar to that of a human.
All was good in search engine land. You could head over to a search engine; type in “dog” and it would give you a list of all the sites related to dogs.
But there was a problem; the listings weren’t always that useful. You would get a list of all the websites to do with “dog”, but they weren’t in any particular order, so you might have to scroll right to the 1,000th website before you found a website that had the information you needed.
So, how could this problem be solved?
The immediate solution is human intervention – to have a human revaluate the listings and put the better websites near the top of the listings. The trouble was, by this time, there were literally billions of websites and sorting them by hand would be an almost impossible task.
So we really needed the task to be automated, but how? How can a computer possibly work out which websites are better than others? How can a computer even develop an opinion?
This was a major headache until 1996 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with an ingenious method.
They hypothesized that websites that had lots of other websites linking to them were probably the more useful resources.
Think about it, if you made a website would you link to any old website?
It’s not likely. But I bet you would definitely link to a really good website that would be beneficial to your visitors.
So, it becomes a counting game again. A search engine just counts how many websites are linking to another to determine where to rank it.
You now can see what the true purpose of a search engine is. To serve up listings that are helpful to the searcher – this is how Google intended it to be, and very importantly, this is how they want it to remain.
The other thing you should now understand is that a search engine is essentially a machine, it has no intuition – the best it can do is count. It outputs results that are dependent on what it counts.
The near downfall of search engines
Google was the first search engine to count the number of links and it has worked extremely well. The better websites usually appeared at the top.
As such, Google became the most popular search engine.
But Google’s success brought with it another problem. Because, so many people use Google, there is a great desire for website owners to be at the top of the listings. A top listing for an e-commerce store means loads of visitors, loads of sales and loads of money.
Soon SEO firms started popping up offering website owners a chance to get to the top of the search results.
But how could anyone offer this?
It was simple, they took advantage of the fact that search engines count. If you want to get top ranking for the keyword “dog” you would just repeat the word dog all over your website and create lots of false websites linking back to your website.
From Google’s point of view, this was terrible because it worked. It meant that search results could be manipulated and could end up ruining the quality of the listings. It meant that useless websites could be at the top quite easily.
Google had to find a way to stop it, before all search results became useless. It had to make changes to its algorithms so it could detect when results were being manipulated.
What they used were indictors of manipulation. Here’s just a few.
• If a websites suddenly gets a lot of links in a short space of time, this indicates some sort of manipulation, because it’s very difficult to get that many links so quickly.
• If a website gets links from lots of unrelated sites, this could indicate manipulation. Why would a chess website link to a custard website? It looks suspicious.
• Does a website contain a word too many times in proportion to other words? If there is a saturation of one word, this could look like someone has tried to manipulate results.
Google has lots of detection methods and when too many “manipulation flags” are scored, a website is punished with either a -30 in ranks, a -350 in ranks, a -950 in ranks or a permanent delisting.
So what is the job of an SEO expert now?
The same as it always was, to manipulate results for their clients.
A good SEO firm is always up-to-date on which methods work best.
Google obviously doesn’t disclose how they rank sites, otherwise everyone could manipulate results again.
But an SEO performs experiments, analyses results and comes up with conclusions as to how Google works.
So what do you need to know?
Essentially your SEO expert is your guide – he or she can show you how to improve your site so that it is worthy of links. He or she can also use manipulation tactics and try to do it under Google’s radar.
What you need to decide is how much risk you are willing to take. Every technique needs to be questioned. You need to ask if there is a good chance, a technique will pass through Google’s detection system or if it is likely to be detected by Google, which, in turn, will punish your website.
If you want to do things the safe way, you have two options:
Create a website that is very useful, one that is better than those offered by others in your field, then tell people about it and get many natural links from people who are linking to you for your content.
Or, use AdWords and pay Google to list your adverts alongside their regular listing.
Above all, use your common sense. Google is clever. If a technique is easy for a human to detect, then perhaps Google could find a way to detect it too. This does not mean you should disregard most manipulation techniques; they will almost certainly be required to get top ranks. What it does mean is that you must stay informed and always ask why an SEO expert has suggested a method before moving ahead with it, ask him or her if he/she has had any previous experience with a method and what he/she thinks the risk factor is.
Ces works alongside Eskimosoup.co.uk as part of the web team. She has been featured in different industry blogs and sites providing resource article relating to Graphic Design Hull. You can connect with her through Twitter @Ces_DTO.